Ducks & Sparrows
Mills River, NC
February 12, 2014
After the wintry conditions of last week forced us to postpone this year’s Ducks and Sparrows day trip, we began the day under stormy skies and rain. Luckily the rain moved off within the first half hour of our tour and the day became quite sunny and warm. Our first stop was at the pond and fields at Van Wingerden. We were greeted by both the rattling call of a Belted Kingfisher fishing on the pond and the songs of Eastern Meadowlarks in the fields. We got great scope views of the Meadowlarks as they popped their heads up out of the grass and we enjoyed watching their fluttery flight with their bright yellow breasts catching the sunlight nicely. Several hundred Red-winged Blackbirds also made for quite the sight, and as they flocked to and fro across the field, the bright red shoulder patches of the male were visible even from a distance.
At the Wastewater Treatment Pond we had a small group of waterfowl with 6 Redhead, 1 female Hooded Merganser and a few Canada Geese. We located a pair of adult Red-tailed Hawks, both perched in different orientations, giving us good comparative looks at the front and back of these ubiquitous yet attractive raptors.
Song Sparrows were out singing in full force today and was by far the most abundant sparrow at Mills River Park. We also had a few Savannah Sparrows, one of which was perched right next to a Song, allowing everyone in the group to view the differences in size, bill shape and coloration. We were teased with the occasional song of a White-crowned Sparrow who never made himself visible, although we did get good looks at both Swamp and Field Sparrows.
After lunch at Mills River Restaurant, we amended our plan to allow enough time to try to see 2 rare duck species that had been previously reported in the area – Common Merganser and Long-tailed Duck. After a few minutes of scanning at Beaver Lake, we located the Common Merganser. It was actively diving pretty far out from us, but with the scope everyone managed to see the distinct red-brown hood with a clear demarcation between its neck and breast, as well as how much larger this species is than the Hooded we had seen earlier in the day. We opted against walking around the side of the lake for closer views and headed south to see the Long-tailed Duck.
The beautiful male Long-tailed Duck was still right where it was a few days ago, on the same small golf course pond in Biltmore Forest. We saw it within seconds of arriving and enjoyed watching it forage, flicking its long black tail up in the air as it dived. This duck put on quite the show for us and was definitely the highlight of the day. With reluctance we left the Long-tailed Duck and called it a day, finishing with 38 species.